So, as promised last time, a bit of an update on what I’m currently writing, as well as some stuff about my main character, and no doubt some stray but related thoughts too.
I am, like a shocking number of people, writing a novel. In fact, if you’re someone who knows me in a non-virtual sense, you’ll be appalled/unsurprised (delete as applicable) to hear it’s the thriller I’ve been working on for … well, let’s admit it’s taken longer than I intended, but lifestuff tends to get between me and the pen (and in all honesty I wouldn’t have it any other way: better busy than bored, I like to think).
The book is, as I say, a thriller – specifically a murder mystery set on a high-security military installation, which is my variation on the classic ‘locked room mystery’ idea; the whole environment is effectively locked, so the number of suspects should be limited… I said ’should be’.
The main character is a female detective, and much of the book is written from her perspective, for a variety of reasons; firstly, I want to create a sense of immediacy to the events, and telling a story in the first person effectively makes the reader inhabit that character’s brainspace and experience the stuff that happens to her with a bit more impact, I always feel.
Secondly, as the story is about her unravelling the circumstances that led to the body being found on the base, writing it in the first person, and limiting the reader’s knowledge of events to those of the character means that they get to play at being detective too, which hopefully makes it a bit more immersive and engaging.
And thirdly and quite importantly, I wanted to write the book from a female perspective because I distinctly recall being told back in my college days that ‘male writers can’t write female characters’, which I thought was a horrible generalisation (and one which I think is equally untrue in reverse, as shown by the book recommendation below) at the time and I still do now, and so I wanted to see how difficult it was.
Obviously, it involves a certain amount of thinking to write from the perspective of a woman, but I’m actually less bothered by the work involved in that than I am by the potential for stereotyping to arise. And by stereotyping, I don’t mean making her need rescuing at the last minute by a male character or something daft like that, but more the danger of going too far the other way; much as I applaud the trend towards strong women characters in fiction in recent years, there’s a bit of a problem in that phrases such as ‘kick-ass’ and ‘uncompromising’ have almost become seen as some kind of shorthand for strong female characters, and I’m keen to avoid falling into this stereotyping trap, though it’s one which I suspect arises from genuinely good intentions.
I don’t want the main character to be demonstrating ‘strength’ by kicking people through walls or having shouting matches with her colleagues, but rather by being a consistent character who knows what she wants to do, and has a pretty good idea of how to do it, in constantly-changing and fairly perilous situations.
Most of the people I’d classify as strong, of whatever gender, are more prone to be like that than ready to kick bottom or to engage in a war of words. I don’t think it’s accurate – or necessarily wise – to define a person’s strength in these ways, and as a male writing a female character, I’m particularly mindful of the need to avoid this kind of stereotyping.
I won’t say too much about the main character at this point, except to say that she’s a fairly normal woman doing a strange job, and doing it well; hopefully relatable, as her narrative carries much of the story.
You’ve probably noticed by now that I haven’t given her name here – that’s because the name I’d planned to use also turns out to be the name of someone in the world of sport, and she’s currently on the rise, so if she becomes very well known I may need to use the ‘Replace All’ option to rename my character. Then again, I seem to recall there was a female character in one of Lee Child’s novels called Holly Johnson, and I don’t think anyone confused her with the singer from Frankie Goes To Hollywood, so maybe I’m being overcautious.
As for how far in I am, and how close to finishing, it’s hard to say with any real certainty, as it seems to be turning out longer than I expected as I try to make sure all the plot elements are given equal weight (important to include some red herrings and the like so solving the mystery isn’t too easy), but I like to think I’m past the halfway point now (“after only eighteen years”, heckles a voice at the back of my mind).
I mentioned that most of the book is in the first person – the bits of it that aren’t take the form of occasional flashback chapters (written in conventional third person omniscient narrative voice) which run in parallel to the main story and give details of events prior to the first chapter. I was a bit concerned that the structure might be a bit tricksy and over-complex (my touchstone for comparison was the film Memento, though that’s way more complicated than what I’m aiming for), but then Gillian Flynn had enormous success and acclaim with Gone Girl, and I was reassured.
(Incidentally, if you haven’t read Gone Girl yet, I heartily recommend it – stylishly written, and so well plotted that she doesn’t need to save the game-changing twists until the end, they’re nicely paced throughout the book. The forthcoming film looks interesting, with a good cast and crew, but I’d recommend you read the source material, I’d be surprised if you didn’t enjoy it).
And that’s about it in terms of stuff I can probably share about the book I’m writing; not just because I want to keep the plot cards close to my chest for now, but also because I’m completely braced for considerable rewriting to happen between this, my first draft, and the time when I launch it out onto an unsuspecting world, and so I’d rather not embarrass myself by referring to story elements or other aspects which are ultimately edited out.
Hope this provides some interest, and also that it gives useful background information when it comes to future posts where I talk about progress, what’s occupying my thinking, and the like. If you’ve got any comments about any of the above – and particularly if you’ve got insights to share on the gender issues aspects referred to above – I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to leave a comment below.
One thing which I plan to write about in more detail is why I’m writing in the thriller genre (well, ‘crime’ is more specifically the genre, I guess), but that could be a slightly lengthy bit, so I’ll save that for another time (trying to keep you in some kind of suspense once again, it could be argued)…